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Thousands of young South Africans and their parents began gathering at the University of Johannesburg campus on Monday to seek admission. Space was limited, symptom of a larger crisis in South African education and perhaps contributing to a sense of desperation that led to the stampede. Many would-be applicants had only learned they were eligible for further study after getting results from high school final exams last week.
University of Johannesburg vice chancellor Ihron Rensburg said a mother who had accompanied her son to the campus was killed in the melee, which started about 7:30, a half hour before the gate was scheduled to open. Two others were seriously injured and seven slightly hurt, he said. It was not immediately clear whether the injured were prospective students, parents or both.
Desmond Mlangu, a prospective student, said he witnessed a “traumatizing” scene, with women screaming and people continuing to push. He said those at the back of the crowd did not seem to realize what was happening at the gate.
Tendai Nembidzane, a final-year business student who is head of the university’s student council, said he witnessed the stampede and afterward saw the dead woman’s son crouching near her body. Nembidzane said student council members later took the young man to their campus office to be comforted. Rensburg said the young man and others affected by the stampede would be offered counseling.
Hours later, shoes and other debris were strewn at the site. People remained in line, still seeking to study. Classes begin in February.
Those at the university this week were seeking late admission. Regular admission closed in June. Rensburg said some 11,000 people were expected to use the late window to apply for as few as 800 remaining places at his school. Across South Africa, universities are under strain as prospective students seek a better life as professionals in a nation beset by high unemployment. The government hopes to expand its universities over the next decade.
Rensburg said the crisis was further complicated because many young South Africans who were applying for university places should instead be continuing their studies at vocational colleges and other institutions.